Strategy making is an art or craft much more than a science. If you try to learn strategy making as a series of routine steps out of a text book, like you might approach cooking using a recipe book then the chance are you won't ever be very good at strategy making.
And students in the Strategies for Sustainability class have a few more challenges. You are trying to learn how to apply the strategy making craft in a more specialised domain of social change to achieve sustainability. Pulling all this together, as the face-to-face students have found already, is not all that straightforward.
The class project is included in the course program as a way to give students the 'practical experience' of trying to apply the theory and method ideas of the course. It is certainly doing this for the face-to-face students. However, as the class project was originally designed and with the available staffing levels it became clear that it would not be possible to handle the class project in the same way for the online students.
The way we will handle the class project for online students is that I will write a chapter of a story each week and it will be your job to think about and discuss online two standard questions each week:
what do you think the characters will do in the next chapter (building your skills in reading people's mind [and feelings!])
what should the characters do next? (building your skills in using the material made available in the course)
I may add other specific (non-standard) questions as the story develops and as I get a better idea of how your learning is progressing.
You will get feedback in several ways.
Firstly you will see in the next week what actually happens (don't assume though that what the characters do will be a perfect application of the course provided knowledge, theories and methods - the characters will most likely make mistakes. The Story is meant to be quite realistic).
Secondly, Joe Hurley and myself will be reading your contributions online and will be offering feedback where this seems helpful.
Characters appearing in this episode in order of appearance:
Elena Giordano: Retail & tourism development, Economic Development Branch, Albert Park City Council
David Lim: Information & arts industry development, Economic Development Branch, Albert Park City Council
Joshua (Josh) Gendel: Economic development services, Economic Development Branch, Albert Park City Council
Jonathan Howarth, Prime Minister of Australis (Conservative Party)
Margaret Somerville, Manager, Environmental Sustainability, Albert Park City Council
The context for the story line
The Story is set in a parallel universe quite a lot like our own - but just a bit different. The Story takes place in Millbourne, Australis - which has an uncanny resemblance to Melbourne, Australia. I'll put up a glossary of terms on the Blackboard so you can more easily see the weak parallels between places and some characters in the imaginary and real parallel universes.
The main character is Jacinta O'Brien. She works for Albert Park City Council. The geography of this municipality is the same as that of the Port Phillip City Council in Melbourne in the real world.
Jacinta is the Manager of Economic Development for Albert Park City Council. She's about 35 and she has a 5 year old child. She has had some time off work to look after her child (till he got to school age, and also so she could study). She has completed the Strategies for Sustainability at RMIT. Now she's back at work and in her new role as Manager of Economic Development. Jacinta worked in the economic development area before her maternity break.
Jacinta has been back for 6 months now. She is currently doing a review of the Economic Development Branch work program for the next 12 months.
Jacinta's Story begins......
Luckily it was Friday. Jacinta, uncharacteristically had papers all over her desk, charts and lists hastily stuck to the walls and reports spilling out onto the floor. And she was feeling a touch frazzled.
She was generally a well organized person with a facility for understanding the big picture. But she was starting the process of developing her Branch's work program for the coming year and this chaos was part of the process.
Her last five years had been a roller coaster ride. In that time she had had a child, become a "Mum" and then, as if she didn't have enough on her plate already, she'd taken on a Master program at RMIT.
Now 'baby' Jamie was five and had started school and so the next phase of her life was beginning! Where it would go from here was anyone's guess. During those last five years, and prompted especially by the new horizons of her Masters work, Jacinta had allowed her imagination to wander, but when Dimitri Palamaris had asked her to come back to Albert Park Council as manager of economic development the offer was to good to refuse - a secure job, a pretty good boss, and a promotion. Her partner was an industrial designer and he earned good money when the economy was up. But the minute things got tough, design was the first thing to be thrown out to cut costs. So Jacinta needed to be able to be the main breadwinner - just in case.
Albert Park City Council was a good Council to work for. It was innovative and community-minded and the family's terrace house was not far from the beach, Jamie's favourite playground. Being close to the city was good for Ray's work too.
But the issue of the moment was getting the next year's work program sorted.
Jacinta had asked her staff Elena, David and Josh to pull together all the policies and programs that the branch was responsible for and the classes of input the branch made to other areas of Council and now she was trying to push it all into some kind of shape. How on earth was she going to organise it all? This might be the time to use that 'outline' software that she's hear about at RMIT. So she fired off an email to Josh to order the package for each member of the team.
Then she tried to get back to the task. But she was feeling a bit more unsettled that she expected to be. Why was that? There was the excitement of getting into new phase of work where she could hopefully put her mark on the Council's activities. And the usual discomfort and fogged brain at having to deal with unstructured information, but there was also a touch of existential angst that should couldn't quite put her finger on. Oh well. Best press on and get through the muddle phase. Everything should sort itself out at some stage. It always had before.
So what did she need to do? She needed a picture of what the current branch commitments were and the expectations beyond the branch. A list would be a good start. Maybe she could map the list later and turn it into a diagram? But that didn't feel like the whole story. What was going to drive the work program forward? What were the challenges? She made a note to herself to do a quick SWOT analysis when the list was close to the final draft stage. She's also need to work out the key players too. There would be a lot of pressures on the Council. Some wanting to drive it in their preferred directions and so trying to block directions that her unit or the Council might be keen on.
Now where to start? The floor. Jacinta wanted it clear by the end of the day.
Now there's a great principle for strategic planning she thought to herself. A small grin grew inside her. Oh, well it was as good as any other principle when she still wasn't sure how everything would shape up.
Jacinta was two thirds of the way through the reports on the floor when Josh burst in through the door, smile from ear to ear. He was a delightful young puppy. A great fixer. What had he done now? Josh insisted that Jacinta have a look at her computer desktop. There was a new short cut.......to the Outliner program! That was fast! Josh said he'd had a play around with the program and that it was easy to import word documents. So he helped Jacinta pull up the list that she was working on. After a bit more tuition from Josh, Jacinta ploughed on with her list of programs and activities using the new program.
My God. It was five o'clock already. Where had the day gone! The team and Dimitri had been marvels and kept her free from distractions for the day. But now she had to head home. Ray would have been looking after Jamie since 3.30. Well he should have been. He didn't forget to turn up very often. It was Ray's turn to get dinner tonight so she would play with Jamie and then get him ready for bed.
Jamie was asleep now, the tea dishes were done and Ray had buried himself in his latest book on the couch. Ray liked fantasy and sci fi. Too much she thought. But he said that even if the characterisation left something to be desired it helped his imagination for industrial design. Ha! Isn't the rationalising mind wonderful. She grabbed a drink and snuggled in beside him.
After a while she reached over and grabbed the last few days papers from the pile and started skimming through. She kept up pretty well with the business sections of the papers at work - the Fin Review, the Australis. The Age business section was pretty light usually. She had a love-hate relationship with the front of the papers. There was so much depressing stuff. Wars, bombs, climate, shootings in schools. She used to be a bit of a news junky some years ago. But having a baby changed most things, including her reading habits. Now she couldn't help seeing Jamie and his beautiful brown cow eyes when she read the news. It didn't really seem like the sort of world she would have chosen for him.
A crossword puzzle completed, and a pleasant drift through the gardening supplement and she grabbed the next bit of the paper.
The headline jumped out at her. "PM Howarth announces nuclear power program". The bastard. No! He couldn't. Oh shit, she knew he'd been heading down this path for at least the last couple of years. But it all seemed so crazy. Nuclear was much more expensive than coal. But now Howarth was justifying nuclear because it was climate friendly. The hypocrite! He didn't believe in climate change! Oh, yes of course, he'd become a climate realist now. Whatever that meant. So what did it say he was he going to do? .......Build up the nuclear skills base......Streamline the approvals process for more mines...and enrichment! Weren't 'we' about to bomb Iran for doing that?......... And get rid of legislative bans on nuclear power stations. But they were State Acts! Yet another takeover of State powers.
This news was really getting to her. It was making her really jumpy. It wasn't that she was an anti-nuclear activist or anything. It's just that it was just another thing! Another thing....Another thing showing that the world was being turned upside down, turned on its head.
It was only a week before that Howarth had announced that there might not be enough water for the Murray Darling Basin irrigation next year if the rains in the next few weeks weren't good enough My God. That was 40% of the worth of Australis' agricultural output! Why didn't we all know that this was coming ages ago? Then some rain came at last. Thank goodness. But nobody knew if it would be enough. Can you imagine being a farmer? How on earth would you manage your business? The climate people didn't seem to be sure whether we were having the worst drought for 100 years or more or if the place was heading to be desert. Anyway she would keep saving the bath water like half the rest of Vittoria and most of Australis. Hadn't things changed in the last six months!
Then there'd been the announcement by the Labour Party Leaders saying that they had set a greenhouse gas reduction target of 60% by 2050, like the UK government had done the year before. This would involve a massive change....if they got around to acting on this grand policy!
With her mind still stewing over all this, Jacinta got up and put the kettle on to make a camomile tea. She brought Ray a cup too and they settled in together on the couch again. By this time Ray had surfaced from his book and wanted to know what the problem was.
She looked at Ray, kept staring. That was it! From the mouths of innocents.... He's put his finger right on it. He wanted to "know what the problem was".
That was why she was so unsettled. Something weird was going on with her world, with their world and she didn't really know what was going on. She didn't know what the problem was. It wasn't fitting together in her head. This existential angst that had been niggling away at her for days, no, most likely for months was not going to go away until she got her head around it all. But where to start. She started blurting it all out to Ray. He let her rave on. Not out out of disinterest. But because he knew that she'd figure it out if she could rage and rave at him for a while. They were close in that way. Comfortable. Good friends.
But where to start? Jacinta's mind was racing. She felt she was onto something. She wasn't sure what, but it would come to her if she kept pursuing it. What was the key? She grabbed a piece of butcher's paper and went back to the couch and started scribbling. It was a habit she's picked up from Ray. He found it useful for his industrial designing work to brainstorm whatever came to him on a big piece of paper so he could see it all at a glance and then after a while his designer's mind would weave the pieces together. So she scribbled out the bits, stared at the page, stared through the page. She had to relax. This was never going to work unless she relaxed.
She asked Ray to give her a massage. She stretched out and he started working his fingers into her shoulders, her back, her arms, her neck, her scalp. On and on. Patiently and firmly he kept working. Thoughts were flouting around in her head, increasingly distracted, she drifted closer to sleep. By now Ray fingers were tired and he stopped massaging and just stroked her skin lightly.
And then she had it! Climate change. It was so obvious. There were many issue at play but this was the key. And she didn't know enough about it. Things were going to keep on taking her by surprise until she sorted it out. But how? How? How?
Then she remembered. A year and a half ago shed bought a book for the Strategies for Sustainability course. It was about climate change. She'd meant to read it. But it wasn't required reading so she hadn't got around to it. Where was it? She leaped up from the couch, kissed Ray on the forehead, and raced into the study and began scrabbling through her books. What had it looked like. That's right, a whitish cover. It should be in her environment section. No. Not it. No. No. Bum where was it? There it was. "Six degrees" Mark Lynas. That was it. She yelled out to Ray that she's found it and then remembered Jamie sleeping in the next room. Woops. Oh well. Lucky he was a good sleeper.
Now she was feeling excited. She chucked the book over to Ray and put the kettle on again. This time for a coffee. Let the caffeine flow.
They were once again settled on the couch. This time it was her with the book and Ray browsing the papers. Jacinta settled in.
This was what she needed to read alright. But part of the way into chapter 1 she knew that this book was not going to be a barrel of laughs. But this was going to be the book that would enable her to build the model of the climate system in her head. She was caught. Obsessed.
It was now late and Ray gave her a 'good night' hug and went to bed.
.........She was halfway through the book and it was three in the morning. The book was compelling. She felt like a rabbit staring into the eyes of a massive snake - too scared to tear away. The future was coming alive to her. One future, not the only possible future of course. But a likely future. A terrible future. She was trembling, partly from cold and partly from fear. This might be Jamie's world she was looking at! Chapter by chapter Lynas pictured and explained what would happen as the world heated, degree by degree. Drought, fires, floods, sea rising and moving in on coastal cities, home to a billion people. Species extinctions. Positive feedbacks. And she was only up to two degrees, with four more to go.
If only this was one of Ray's sci fi books But Lynas had put together the book based on thousands of scientific papers from reputable journals.
What she was reading about was very, very bad.
She had to go to bed. She was taking Jamie and his friend Elise to the beach tomorrow and Jacinta would be dead tired if she kept going.
She was tired the next day. But the kids were getting on really well. Often they played 'side by side' in their own worlds. But today they were playing together. So cute. Then she thought of the book buried in her back pack. The kids were happy, they had their blockout on, had just had a snack, the water was calm, there seemed to be no reason why she shouldn't start reading again.
Tonight was Jacinta's turn to do dinner. She distractedly put it together. No gourmet meal tonight! It was leftovers and a quick pasta. Then Ray got Jamie to bed.
Jacinta begged forgiveness and pulled the book out again. Ray decided to do a few hours work in the study. Two hours later he came back. Jacinta was near the end of the book. She was looking tired, drained. She said she wanted to finish before she went to bed. Ray decided to stay up till she was finished.
Jacinta came into the study. She'd finished. She wanted to go to bed.
When they were in bed Jacinta asked Ray to hold her. He said "Tell me. What's going to happen." Then she said the words that had been echoing in her head more and more as she got to the end of the book. "Ray, this thing will wipe out most life on earth. Most people will die. It's getting bad even now. Things will just get worse and worse and worse and worse for the next hundred years. That's Jamie's lifetime. It's just terrible." Then the tears came, in floods as the pent up fears could be expressed. "We have only a few years to stop this future. And what has to be done is so huge." Ray held her tight.
Her emotions spent Jacinta lay in Ray's arms. They both thought distractedly about the world of the future, about their beautiful baby, about their friends, about people they new in many parts of the world, about life. They held each other, cream skin next to chocolate. Two people, Jacinta O'Brien and Rakesh Krishnayya.
Sunday was a strange day. Jacinta was tired and a bit withdrawn. They went over to friends as planned and everything was very pleasant. But it all felt a bit unreal.
That night Jacinta said that it was funny really. On Friday she wasn't sure what the key problem was, and now she was. But now she didn't know what to do about it! Ray laughed and kissed her.
Back at work
Some people find it hard to stay down. And luckily Jacinta was one of those people. By Monday the fear and sadness had faded and been replaced by a sort stoic determination to 'do something'. Although she didn't have the foggiest idea of what that something would be.
In the meantime she had a job to do and three staff to look after. The Staff Meeting was non-eventful but cheerful which helped Jacinta ease back to her normal self. She expected that she'd have her list finalised during the day and might even be able to do the first cut of the SWOT analysis.
The first draft of the responsibilities list was done. So Jacinta fired off a copy to Elena, David and Josh.
The next task, then, was to do the SWOT analysis. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Whose would they be? The Council's? A business's? Or the community's? All three presumably. How to make sure all key issues are thought about? Could perhaps use the triple bottom line as a scoping tool? Environmental, social and economic? That might work. She had a good handle on the economic issues. And having worked with Albert Park City Council some years ago she was pretty tuned into the social and environmental issues. It was that sort of Council. Good. She was starting to feel comfortable. She was on the home stretch. All she had to do was add some SWOT columns to her table (see the table in a Word document on the Blackboard below this document) and then fill it all in. Throw in a bit of consultation to capture what she'd missed and it was done. Very nice. It was time to go to lunch.
Jacinta grabbed her lunch out of her bag and headed to the nearby park. The sky was brilliant blue. Seagulls were cawing and fighting each other for scraps. And the shrubs were looking a lot happier since the rain. It was just a perfect day. Jacinta closed her eyes and soaked in the sun. She woke from her reverie with a realisation that she's just have time to pick up a library book for Jamie. One of the Mums in the playgroup that she kept in touch with had recommended a book by Michael Stephens. "A block....." No. "A flock of Blatts". It's funny how play groups bring people together who would never in a fit have chosen each other for friends. But motherhood creates a secret club.
Back in the office Jacinta settled down with a cup of tea and the one sweat biscuit she allowed herself a day and began to plot the completion of the SWOT analysis. She was finding staring at her toes a convenient way to think about the SWOT issues when she saw a small pile of papers on the floor. They were obviously refugees from her list-building process. She flipped through the titles to see if the topics had been captured in the list already. Retail precincts planning. Yes. Tram service upgrades. Yes. Her infrastructure topics captured that. Vulnerability of Albert Park Municipality Beach-side Development to Sea Rise. Yep, that was covered by a couple of topics on the list. She flipped open the report and absentmindedly skimmed the summary. "So with only a likely half metre rise in 100 years it is expected that no action needs to be taken by the Council over the next decade." That didn't seem right. Mark Lynas' book hadn't said one metre in 100 years? She'd have to look it up again. Ugh. She hadn't expected that she'd need to look at that book again so soon. Then her mind skipped on to the irrigators being told a few weeks ago that they might not have any water for their orchards and crops. If they'd had more notice what preparation and prevention measures could they have taken? Hmm. What about the economy in her municipality? How well prepared were businesses here? Her brow furrowed again. There was something wrong with her line of thinking? Preparedness. Yep. Prevention. Prevention. Of course. The nightmare described in Lynas' book was not something to adapt to, because no adaptation would have a lasting effect in the face of the steady destruction of the conditions for life on earth. The prime strategy had to be prevention. We'd need a sustainable economy. So what did that mean in practice? The connection to a sustainable economy should be built into the SWAT analysis somehow. OK. How could she do that? Maybe she could apply a gap analysis? What was the gap? Was it an opportunity or a threat? Could be both. Alright how to assess the gap. That would require a comparison of the present economy with the sustainable economy. Good. Where do I get the profile of the sustainable economy?
Jacinta grabbed the phone. She called Margaret Somerville the Manager of the Environmental Sustainability branch and asked her whether she had any metrics on a sustainable economy. Marg said she thought that that was something the Economic Development branch would have! Great. Marg said her programs were based on reducing negatives and increasing positives. But they didn't have a profile of a sustainable economy and she thought that putting it that way might even be the wrong way to frame the question. It seemed too prescriptive to her. Okay, okay, let's try another avenue.
Would any of the Environmental Sustainability branch's consultants have the info? Marg thought not but gave Jacinta several contacts. Jacinta grabbed the list and wandered into Josh's office and asked him to see what he could find out. Then Jacinta rang several consulting firms she often used and asked them. Nobody at the other end knew off the top of their heads. So Jacinta asked them to ring their replies through to Josh.
Then she got on with filling out more of the SWOT analysis and working out who to consult about setting program priorities for her Branch.
At 4.30 Josh called in with some sheets of paper under his arm. He said that all the environmental and economic consultants had rung back and each had drawn a blank. He said that he had also rung a few people in the State and Federal Environment Departments and the State Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability and some of the environmental community groups and all of them had said they didn't have a profile of a sustainable economy. A few people mentioned the Labour 60% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050 target. So maybe that was the bench mark?
Jacinta looked at Josh for a few seconds - her brow furrowed. It was clear from Mark Lynas' book that the 60% reduction target by 2050 was too little too late to prevent runaway greenhouse heating (running up to and perhaps past 6 ºC). So that goal was clearly not any kind of definition of sustainability - even just in the greenhouse area. She thanked Josh and turned to her computer. She added a note to the activities/SWOT list to say that it appeared that no one had a profile of a sustainable economy and that the Economic Development Branch activities assessment might have to be completed without reference to such a profile. Still frowning she shut down her computer. Packed her bag and left for the day.
What will the characters do next? (for this episode concentrate on Jacinta’s next actions)
What should they do next? (for this episode concentrate on Jacinta’s next actions)
Are there any key issues left off the list? Remember that Albert Park City Council corresponds to the real world Port Philip City Council.
How good is the SWOT analysis?
What priority will be and should be given to the projects? Or should other issues be considered before making a choice?
What do you think is the most likely way that Jacinta O'Brien will set up the consultation process around the Economic Development Branch work program development (I'm asking for a prediction)
How should Jacinta O'Brien set up the consultation process around the Economic Development Branch work program development (I'm asking for a recommendation)
ie. consult on what issues, with what stakeholders? How to structure the consultation?
Notes that provide some context for the questions:
This course focuses on 3 key topics: Sustainability (largely environmental sustainability), social change, and strategy making. In this episode the sustainability and the strategy making themes are actively introduced. The social change theme is not actively developed at this point. It will be picked up in the next episode.
The strategy making theme is actively explored - as Jacinta develops her work program. She is developing a meta-strategy that will shape the official strategy work of the Council in the economic development area. Her meta strategy is not fully developed in this episode. It will be fully developed in the next episode.
The Story will then follow her work on one official strategy of the Council.